In an effort to create “wild steelhead gene banks,” the state will no longer stock hatchery steelhead in three Southwest Washington rivers. The state Department of Fish and Wildlife Monday named three tributaries of the lower Columbia River as where it will no longer release hatchery fish.
Starting this year, the department will no longer plant hatchery steelhead in the East Fork Lewis River or the North Fork Toutle/Green River.
The Wind River, which hasn’t been stocked with steelhead since 1997, also will be off-limits to stocking.
As part of the plan, the department will have more than 50,000 hatchery smolts previously slated for the East Fork Lewis River instead stocked in the Washougal River and Salmon Creek. Staffers are working to place another 25,000 smolts previously earmarked for the North Fork Toutle/Green River, said a news release.
These actions are part of a statewide effort to help conserve and restore wild steelhead, particularly those listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act, said director Phil Anderson. All three watersheds designated as gene banks support wild steelhead listed as threatened since 1998.
Studies have shown that hatchery fish can compete with wild steelhead for spawning partners, and that interbreeding can reduce survival rates for wild steelhead, Anderson said.
The department included gene banks as a recovery strategy in the Statewide Steelhead Management Plan, adopted in 2008. The department designated the Sol Duc River as the first gene bank in 2012.
To support the effort, fishery managers plan to open fishing seasons in the new wild steelhead zones targeting hatchery fish, which will continue to return to those rivers for at least two more years. Catch-and-release fishing for wild steelhead may also be allowed in later years.